Posted on: 28/01/2019
The kindness of strangersI know there seems to be a bit of a theme running through my titles, but I must tell you about these two events that happened last week. I spent Wednesday to Friday in London, and on the way to my visit to BETT (formerly known as the British Educational Training and Technology show) I was asked by a lady on the Underground whether she was on the right platform for the station she needed. Rather than just give her directions, I told her to come with us as she looked a bit overwhelmed by how busy that trains were: I thought it was best that she had some company! She was very grateful and proceeded to tell lots of our fellow passengers how kind we had been to her. After about 40 quite stressful minutes, on some very busy trains, we got her safely to her destination and she turned as she got off the train and said that our kindness would be returned to us. I thought nothing of it until later, on the Docklands Light Railway, when I realised that I only had one glove. Just before I got off the train, I asked the gentleman sitting next to me if he would kindly look and check that he wasn't sitting on my glove. Sadly not,so I left the train feeling despondent, having lost one of my favourite gloves. As I was climbing the stairs to leave the platform, I heard a call, "madam, I found your glove". I had dropped the glove further down the carriage, the gentleman had searched for it, found it and ran after me to return it. “How kind,” I thought, and then I remembered what the lady had said earlier. Travelling on the Underground in London is often referred to as not very pleasant, so I was pleased to learn that kindness does still exist among strangers. However, that was not the end of it. As I trudged back to my hotel at the end of that very long day, again I found myself climbing the stairs coming out of the Underground station, only to hear someone shouting behind me, “madam, you might need this!” I turned, and saw a different gentleman running up behind me with my bank card in his hand. He had seen me drop it out of my pocket and ran after me to return it. I don’t think these random acts of kindness were unrelated. I think there is a genuine desire among people, especially at the moment, to be kind to each other. We see so much sad news and times when people have done the wrong thing, it was so nice to be on the receiving end of not one, but two random acts of kindness and also to be able to help someone who was genuinely grateful.
Wednesday was a very busy day, spent with the suppliers of our computers, as we visited just about every stall in the ExCel exhibition centre. We chose the interactive panels that will be our ‘working walls’ in classrooms, chose the desktop and laptop computers for both the students and the staff and I stayed late into the evening and tried out just about every type of educational software available (and even managed to meet the Bumble Bee transformer!). Thursday and Friday were a bit more formal, as I attended a conference run by the New Schools Network and the Department for Education. This was an excellent opportunity to learn from, network and talk with other Principals who are either at exactly the same stage as we are at the Deanery, or who have opened a new school very recently.
So, as I spent Thursday and Friday reflecting with the New Schools Network on how to be really successful in our final preparations and during our opening year, I was reminded of our core values at the Deanery. We are a school run by Christians for all people. We will welcome people to our school who have no faith, some faith and a strong faith. I want all people who come to us to feel something different. The welcome they receive, the way they are spoken to, the experience they have from the minute they set foot on our campus – everyone will notice that they are somewhere that welcomes them. We cherish the notion of family and will explicitly teach among other things respect, justice, service and truthfulness. We will help our students feel proud to be Deanery students and the way they treat each other, members of our staff community and visitors will be of huge importance. As an individual, I believe each and every one of us can make a difference to our society: be polite, hold a door open, help someone with a heavy bag, say “good morning”. These all sound a bit obvious, but often get missed in the busy-ness of a day. My experiences on the Underground reminded me that there are good people in the world, willing to be kind to strangers and in our own small way at the Deanery we will nourish this in the way we all work with each other.Read More
Posted on: 21/01/2019
Strangers on a trainJust before Christmas I had the privilege of accidentally sitting next to potentially one of the most interesting people I have met courtesy of the Paddington to Temple Meads line! Melanie was one of the people who conducted the archaeological survey on the Deanery site before building could commence. She provided me with some fascinating facts, some of which I will share below and also inspired me to make new links with other local schools (more about that later).
The Deanery is built on what used to be farmland, between the Old Canal to the east and a small tributary of the River Ray. The ‘soil’ is clay (very heavy clay as I found out when I walked the boundary of the field!) and a mixture of silt, sand and gravel (which is a good sign for our school allotments). There are lots of significant archaeological and historical sites surrounding the Deanery, including a bowl barrow near Rushy Platt Farm, the site of a watermill at West Leaze and the remains of a small deserted medieval settlement not far away. I cannot wait for our History teacher be appointed, they will be so excited! The Wiltshire and Berkshire canal lies just to the east of the school site and many local residents will have seen the extensive work done on the restoration of the part nearest the school – this is partly where we have taken the inspiration for the name of our adjoining primary school from (Kingfisher). Incidentally the canal was built in 1804 probably stopped being used commercially in 1906 before being infilled in 1962.
Previous investigations in Swindon have found evidence of Romano-British, medieval and post-medieval activity in this area, so we were delighted to discover that our school has been built in an area where people would have lived, worked and passed on knowledge since possibly as early as the Mesolithic Age (9600 – 4000 BC)! Discoveries on the actual site of our school lie mostly under the sports pitches and included a large pit containing the remains of animal bones and various other ditches, pits, postholes and tree-throw holes of significance. The datable pieces of pottery that were found include pieces from the Middle/Late Bronze Age, Late Bronze Age, Iron Age, Romano-British and medieval period. It is possible that there were roundhouses or other circular structures on the site and these have been identified following discoveries and mapping of lots of post holes. It has given me the idea that we might actually build a replica round house on our playing field in order to really bring history alive for our students and to honour those who inhabited our site before us. The pottery found in the excavations gave the archaeologists the best clues for dating the site and they found some pottery which could be 4000 years old: they found one piece which could be part of an Early Bronze Age Collared Um, a kind of pot you can see in one of our pictures.
In summary, it seems that the clearest phase of activity on the school site was in the Late Bronze Age when there appears to have been part of a settlement here with one, possibly two, roundhouses evident. There were also farming activities here, with definite field boundaries evident. One really interesting find that is being studied further is a ‘cushion’ stone, which is being sent for X-ray fluorescence analysis to determine if any metal is present in it and if so, it could have been used in primitive metal-working. It is likely in the future that some of the finds from the school site will be exhibited in the Swindon Museum and Art Gallery, of course we will be visiting there to see that! It is so exciting to be part of this project and to have the opportunity to both honour our ancestors and to educate future scientists, archaeologists, vets, Doctors, nurses, teachers etc. in our wonderful state of the art modern building. And of course, it makes me pause and consider, what will the archaeologists of the future find when they dig up the Deanery in the year 6020 perhaps?!
Note: I am really grateful to Melanie for providing me with the report and to Wessex Archaeology for their detailed work on our school site, see more of them here: https://www.wessexarch.co.uk/about
Post-excavation Assessment and Updated Project Design
Posted on: 14/01/2019
What does a Principal with no students do?I started my countdown to opening with over 900 days to go! And now there are only 213 left... Let me explain. I was appointed as the Principal Designate for the Deanery in December 2016. To begin with I worked on the Deanery project about a day a week, as I was still working as a consultant in Bristol, supporting schools with maths and leadership help. Last January (2018), I began working on a much more regular basis for the Deanery and come September 2018 I was full time. It is usual for a Principal to be in place for a brand-new school for a year before opening, so they can get all the things in place that are needed to open a school. I have had a bit longer to prepare for our opening, so I really hope I do not forget anything! I have the most wonderful group of people supporting me to get ready, so I think I should be ok.
There are so many things to think about when you open a brand-new school. In this preparation phase we have tried to include young people and local people as often as possible when we have been making decisions about the school. First the Governors and I chose the logo and next came the uniform. I am really lucky to have been invited to work in St Mary Redcliffe and Temple school in Bristol for a day a week, so have been able to talk to their students about all the decisions we have taken so far. In fact, it is volunteers from their student council who are modelling the Deanery’s uniform on our website. Apart from working in Bristol (usually on a Wednesday), I seem to have spent most of the rest of my time either on the building site or working out of various coffee shops in Swindon. If I am not meeting the wonderful construction company (BAM construction – more about them later), then I can be found either writing policies or meeting prospective students and parents while drinking ‘skinny flat white’ coffee and trying to avoid eating too many croissants! ‘Office work’ for me includes answering hundreds of emails asking questions about the school, either from prospective parents or staff who are really excited about possibly working at the school. Policies are very important too, so I have worked really closely with the Governors to make sure we have all the right policies in place ready for opening. I must admit though, I am trying not to spend too much time in my office this year as I think it is much more important to be out building relationships with people who we can work with in the future.
Meetings with the team from BAM construction are usually particularly important. I have had to chose colours for everything, including the toilet doors (very important); I have chosen science desks, plug sockets, carpet colours, reception desk styles and locker designs. You would be surprised how long every single decision takes, as there is so much to think about and consider. Luckily, we have had huge support from BAM construction, who are building the Deanery. Richard, the project manager and Cat, the design manager have done a fantastic job, helping me make all the critical decisions, and Jack has been the favourite tour guide with local primary school groups! We have also had amazing help from the architects that have designed the school, and I cannot wait to show you the finishing touches they have planned.
So, what are we doing now? We are working really hard with the Department for Education to get the final things in place ready for opening. Of course, we are making sure we have all the right policies and procedures in place; Sue, our construction consultant is helping with all the purchasing of equipment and furniture and is helping me choose our caterers (a very important job); Colin, our education consultant, is working hard to make sure lots of community groups come and use the wonderful facilities we have and is also helping me with staff recruitment. I am focusing on staff recruitment and also visiting lots more primary schools to talk to staff and students there, as we are already planning recruitment of new students for our second year of opening, 2020!
So, in answer to the question that lots of people have asked me, “what does a Principal with no students do?”, I hope I have given you some idea. I must admit though, whilst this stage is very exciting and a huge privilege (to have the chance to choose and plan everything in detail), this Principal would much rather be a ‘Principal with students’ and so I am particularly excited to see that the countdown now seems to be racing down at an ever accelerating rate!